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Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH), an independent hotel collection, has been passionate in its support of travel professionals for 27 years and counting.
In fact, more than three-fourths of all SLH bookings are through agents — a rising figure that has led to the company recently expanding its North America team with two new salespeople, Lita Moreno and Vanessa Johnson.
“It’s incredibly important to offer the travel agent community a direct line to our SLH hotels and engage as much as possible,” said Kenan Simmons, vice president of business development and head of Americas region for SLH. “As the U.S. is our No. 1 source market, we plan to deepen our relationships and expand our coverage with agents.”
Below, Simmons shares insight into its newest portfolio additions, what’s in the pipeline and plans to bolster its agent community.
SLH is currently revamping its travel agent website, Small Luxury Heroes. What should agents expect following the relaunch?We are currently revamping the travel agent website in order to provide agents with the most up-to-date and relevant information on our SLH hotels; it will be relaunched later this year. SLH typically runs yearlong increased commission promotions, ranging from 5 to 15 percent, to reward agents for their efforts. Also, we run frequent competitions that result in free stay vouchers.
How has the agent recognition program evolved since its beginning?We constantly strive to be a great partner through our various initiatives. We recently introduced a new travel industry rate for all agents: 50 percent off the best available rate at any SLH hotel (subject to availability). It can be used to save on personal holidays or to explore upcoming destinations, and this program continues to evolve over the next few years.
Why do you think agents account for more than three-fourths of SLH bookings?To begin with, our portfolio is filled with some of the best independent boutique luxury hotels in the world, and our sales teams continue to develop relationships across the globe. In addition, it’s due to the exposure we offer agents to our properties. We are continually offering roadshow meetings, showcase events, fam trips and more. This furthers our deep relationships in the market and highlights the strength of our portfolio. I would also mention that the quality, customer service and unique experiences at our hotels are what keeps agents — and travelers — coming back again and again.
How do agents benefit from booking with the company? Firstly, our VIP Desk offers 24/7 concierge coverage for all our 524 hotels [at press time], making reservations, VIP client requests and commission inquiries all easier to manage. Agents can be certain they will receive the best rate available and have the assurance knowing their clients are very well taken care of by our hotels. We also have a team that ensures agents receive their commissions in a timely manner.
In late 2017, we relaunched our loyalty program, Invited. The free-to-join program replaces The Club of SLH and offers all members access to exclusive rates and guaranteed benefits, right from their first stay at any of our properties. Invited is the result of extensive research among existing members and consists of three tiers: Invited, Inspired and Indulged.
We found that loyalty program members most highly valued benefits that are directly related to their hotel stay, as opposed to wider promotions and brand affiliations. SLH’s investment in Invited has been designed to reflect this, while simplifying and personalizing the member experience.
Can you share SLH’s stringent vetting and selection process of hotels?All our hotels go through a strict vetting procedure before they become members. We get around 800 requests a year, and only about 5 percent make it.
At the same time, our development team is busy proactively seeking out the very best new and established small hotels. The hotel must be independently owned and offer a unique luxury experience in a new location for our guests. Most importantly, however, it must guarantee the highest standards of intuitive service across the board.
One of our key focal points is ensuring top quality at our hotels, in terms of the product and the service. As a result, SLH has become harder to join and harder to stay a part of, with mystery inspections carried out on all 500-plus hotels annually. These high standards are key to the ongoing success of our brand as well as the trust that both guests and hoteliers place in us.
What are some of the most noteworthy additions to the SLH portfolio?SLH has always delivered culturally relevant experiences, and we’re constantly seeking out new high-caliber small, independent hotels to join the brand in new destinations.
In 2017, we added 57 new hotels in places such as Dubai, Havana, Panama, the U.S., Rome and Japan. This year we have some exciting new hotels joining the brand, including Hotel Three Sixty luxury villas set high above the rainforest in Costa Rica; and Spain’s Nobu Hotel Marbella, which opened in March following the incredibly successful opening of Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay last year.
In partnership with global trends analyst firm Trendwatching, SLH recently released a luxury trends report that looks ahead to the boutique hotel experience. What were key findings? This year in our trends report, it was evident that customization is key — such as allowing people to tailor their own experience down to the scent of their room, the fabric of their linen or when and where they eat a meal.
Where this trend differs across the continents is how the same person would customize a room in Europe as opposed to the U.S. or Asia. There was also a noticeable move to help people switch off on vacation — whether it’s from literary perspective with initiatives, such as a “Book Butler” at Kristiania Lech hotel in Austria, or enabling them to engage spiritually with their destination thanks to a “Massage under the Stars” at Spa Village Resort Tembok in Bali.
Destination-wise, there is a definite emergence of independent, luxury hotels within destinations that are newly on luxury travelers’ radar. Portugal and Japan are two examples of these destinations; in Portugal, we’ve grown our number of hotels by 25 percent, and by 70 percent in Japan since 2015.
Hotels are also embracing their locality serving guests an authentic dose of local culture within their design. We’re seeing less opulent decor and lavish interiors; instead, hotels are going for pared-back luxury, uncluttered spaces and a laid-back ambiance. More hotels are going natural with their design, bringing an earthy feel to their decor, and using local materials to bring in this authenticity. The walls at The Sukhothai Shanghai, which opened this April, are made from clay. This sounds basic, but it is highly effective in air purification, humidity regulation and sound absorption.
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